Wednesday 30 July 2014

"Venice never quite seems real, but rather an ornate film set suspended on the water."
-Frida Giannini-

One must visit Venice before it sinks - or so the story goes.  To be honest, Venice was probably the city I was least excited to visit on our Italian vacation.  I tend to feel overwhelmed and unimpressed in places that are famous for being touristy and from what I'd heard, this little city on water was going to be filled to the brim with tourists.  Well, there certainly was a fair share of foreigners gracing the streets but Venice itself had more charm than I could have imagined.

The canals, the boats, the colours, the bridges, the laundry draped out windows, the narrow walkways snaking off in random directions, the quiet corners and the air of mystery that hangs over you as you delve further into the city - it's almost too perfect. 

While we made sure to pass through St Mark's Square, cross over Rialto Bridge and admire the Grand Canal, our days were generally spent delving as far as we could into the city.  It's amazing just how quiet and magical it feels when one wanders away from the crowds.  We had heard that it was easy to get lost in this floating city and yes, when one is seeking out something specific it can seem like you might never find your way there.  However, when your objective is to meander down as many side streets and canals as you can, it's not the disorientating experience you expect.  In fact, it's utterly intoxicating and you can't help but want to burrow further.

"Venice, the most touristy place in the world, is still just completely magic to me."
-Frances Mayes-

While one can't deny that there are indeed a lot of tourists in Venice, one also can't deny that the city is steeped in fascinating history with plenty of quiet corners to feel like you might be the only foreigner in town.

Favourites: Pregnancy Edition

Saturday 26 July 2014

Apologies in advance for those of you who could care less about pregnancy related posts - feel free to skip over this one.

Pre-pregnancy, I didn't fully grasp the immense amount of change that the body and mind go through while growing a human.  Perhaps I didn't care or perhaps the entire process just felt so far away that I didn't actually consider what pregnancy actually consisted of.  In any case, it was a bit of a shock and I desperately scoured for information and tips to help ease into this period of growth.

While I like to think of myself as relatively relaxed about the whole thing, there are times when everything feels different and anything that provides a little comfort is welcome.  And thus, here are those things - in no particular order.

As I began my second trimester, I started attending an English prenatal yoga class.  The yoga itself wasn't that fulfilling but the community was nice so I continued to go but I also wanted to develop a better practice.  I was skeptical about online classes - they aren't usually my thing - but I quickly became hooked to YogaGlo.  My favourite teacher is Jo Tastula and the Active Second Trimester Flow is to die for.  I aim for 3 classes a week - sometimes I do more and sometimes I do less but it has made all the difference in my day.

Gaia Pure Pregnancy Belly Butter
I started off using Mama Bee Belly Butter which was perfectly fine but while I was in Canada, I came across the Gaia and I LOVE it!  The scent reminds me of a spa and it makes my skin soft and relieves any itchiness.  And, knock on wood, no stretch marks yet.

My Chiropractor
I had never visited a chiropractor before but I've long suffered from pain in my upper and lower back.  I suppose it was fear holding me back but when I came across a clinic in Stavanger that specializes in women and children, I took a leap of faith and made an appointment.  Best. Decision. Ever.  I don't know why I wasn't doing this much earlier.  In terms of pregnancy, chiropractors can help to relieve a lot of pain in your back and pelvis.  There's studies that with a better aligned body, your labour will be quicker and post-pregnancy, it's also supposed to help get things back to where they once were.  I also see many-a newborn babies going into the clinic - apparently it can help with colic.  We'll see.

Magnesium Citrate Powder
Half way into my second trimester I was jolted awake nearly every night with terrible leg cramps.  There's nothing like writhing in pain to ruin a good sleep.  Carly suggested magnesium powder.  Ever since, I've been mixing myself a cup at night and I haven't had a problem.

When it comes to food…
I'm so thankful to have the variety of summer fruits and vegetables.  Bowls of banana, raspberry and Norwegian strawberries have been a great snack as have fruit smoothies (I usually add frozen berries, a banana and some apple juice.)  It's also been a challenge to find drinks aside from water and orange juice.  Cocktails aren't common in Norway so ordering a virgin of something isn't really a possibility but at home, I have had virgin bloody marys and lately, a cranberry, sparkling water with a twist of lime has been nice.  This Aranciata Rossa from San Pelligrino is quickly becoming a new favourite.  I wish I had some magical fixes to share for the torture that was my first trimester but I don't really - everything tasted terrible.

And for the clothes…
I would have never guessed that it would be near impossible to find maternity clothes that I felt comfortable in here in Norway given that there are pregnant women everywhere.  But, alas, H&M seemed to be the only option and I didn't like it.  I'd much rather spend money on a few quality pieces than a bunch of cheap stuff that doesn't feel nice.  I got away with the hair elastic on my jeans trick for awhile but I was desperate to buy clothes when I arrived in Canada this June.

I ordered 2 tank tops and a pair of leggings from Storq which might just be the softest cotton I've ever felt.  I will live in those leggings right up until the arrival of this baby and probably afterwards as well.  (I didn't buy the skirt or dress as I figured I wouldn't get use out of them in Norway.  During this heat wave, I wished I had them.)

I bought one pair of maternity jeans while in Norway but the full panel that's meant to go up over your belly, right under your chest felt so uncomfortable for me.  Paige Denim have jeans with small sections of elastic above the pockets so they look and feel like regular pants.  I have these ones and these ones.

I'm still wearing quite a bit of non-maternity clothes including a couple of long maxi dresses (here and here,) pretty much all of my Lululemon stuff and my cardigans from All Saints.  I bought a few things from Gap Maternity and Loft Maternity but many of my favourite tops came from an independent store in Calgary (Posh Mommy for those of you who find yourselves there.  They have a few things available online too.)

And there you have it - the things that have made my pregnancy a little easier thus far.  Do you have anything to add?

Summertime and the Living is Hot!

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Sola Beach, Norway

We are in our third summer in Stavanger and this one couldn't be more different than the previous two. (Third! Can you believe it?)  In fact, I think we're breaking records around here.  The last two summers were cool hovering between 15 and 18 degrees most days with high winds and rain making frequent appearances.  There were a couple of days that reached into the mid-twenties but with the accompanying chilly wind off the North Sea, it never actually felt hot.

This summer, by contrast, has felt hot.  Every day the temperature is peaking between the mid and high twenties with an occasional slight breeze although, comparatively, quite calm.  Our long hours of sunlight means it doesn't even start cooling off until 10 pm.  For the first time ever, I'm venturing out without packing along a cardigan or a jacket.  The curtains are drawn almost all day to block out the sun and all housework has taken a backseat as I don't dare turn on an appliance.  We're going through a steady stream of frozen treats and fruit smoothies and I've been scrounging through my wardrobe to find clothes that fit (sort of) and keep me cool. (Funny enough, while home and shopping for maternity clothes, I told sales associates I didn't want anything too summery as it just wouldn't get worn in Norway. I'm kicking myself now.)  The other day, I lounged inside in my bikini and have half-heartedly joked that I might set up a lawn chair in our underground parking, easily the coolest place in the building.  I never would have thought I'd be yearning for air conditioning in Stavanger, yet here I am, spending an extra minute or two in front of the open refrigerator door.  But, I will not complain.  Past Novembers with mere moments of sunshine lurk not far in my memory and unfortunately, not far in the future.

July is a typically quiet month in Norway.  Tourism is at it's peak but the Norwegians are no where to be found.  Known as 'fellesferie,' the month of July marks the time where everyone is on holidays.  Norwegians are encouraged to take their summer vacation time (several weeks at a time) at once leaving offices bare and businesses closed.  Our local cafe is shut for the month; my seamstress has a note on the door informing customers they'll be back at the end of July; even some banks are closed.  Our neighbourhood practically resembles a ghost town and Joe's commute to the office is marked without traffic and plenty of parking spaces.  Those that did stick around Stavanger have been taking advantage of the high temperatures.  Every day I watch groups of people, children and adults alike, who wander down to the pier below our building to dive into the cool water of the fjord.  I'll hear the first attendants well before noon and have been woken up by the last well after midnight. 

This past weekend, we wandered over to Sola Beach for an afternoon.  While we've visited several times before, we've never actually laid out at the beach.  Even on sunny, warm days, the wind batters us and after watching the kite surfers, we usually retreat.  This time, the beach was packed and we laid out our towels with everyone else both of us returning home with a slight sunburn as our normally unexposed skin has lost any immunity it once had to the sun's rays.

While the sweat might be pooling behind my knees and as I make a third trip to the freezer for a popsicle, I'll relish this unseasonably warm, Norwegian summer as it very well could be our last.

Recent Reads VII

Friday 11 July 2014

I received my first Kindle just over four years ago right before we moved to Africa.  I was hesitant about the whole e-book thing.  I love collecting books; I love the feel of the paper in my hands; I dream of creating an expansive library one day in my home and a Kindle did not seem to fit in the picture.  However, after spending six months in Houston and carting a suitcase of books back and forth with me was not plausible and moving to a country where acquiring books in English was going to be impossible, the e-book was the best option.  My goodness, that Kindle was a lifesaver for this perpetual reader.

For the last four years, I've been lugging around that same Kindle and it has treated me well but this year for my birthday, Joe upgraded me to the new paperwhite edition.   While it essentially does the same thing, it is so much lighter and smaller than its predecessor.  The backlighting is really convenient (especially lately during my hours of interrupted sleep) and the touch screen is quite intuitive.  Again, we chose the 3G model - when one lives somewhere with consistent internet this isn't as big of a deal but I learned in Gabon, when the internet would go out for days at a time, it was very nice to have the capability to purchase books without the connection.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Taking place in the late 80s, we follow the 14 year old narrator, June, as she grapples with adolescence and her Uncle Finn's battle with AIDS during a time when not much was known about the disease.  The relationship conflicts are abundant in this novel as each member of June's family deals differently with Finn's disease.

While there were some moments that were a little too 'teen-y' for me and a few less-plausible plot turns near the end, I really did enjoy this book.  The writing is honest and at times, heartbreaking but with enough moments of light and hope that you don't feel utterly devastated by the end of it.  Be prepared for some tears though - they'll come and probably more than once.

Rick Bragg is a writer who grew up in extreme poverty in the Southern United States with a father who  drank far too much and a mother who worked hard to make a life for her boys despite their many obstacles.  Rick chronicles his childhood and later his adulthood as he makes a way for himself in the world of journalism.

I added this book to my wish list ages ago after another blogger recommended it for those who loved The Glass Castle I loved that book and figured I would love this one too but I just didn't.  Rick's life is certainly interesting, particularly his experiences as a journalist in conflict zones, yet the pace of the story didn't draw me in as much as I hoped it would.  That's not to say it's not a good read - it was a fine piece of non-fiction but perhaps not the page turner I was looking for.

Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman
Druckerman and her husband live in France and as they welcomed their first child into the world, they found themselves looking at French parents who seemed to have it all together in terms of parenting when they were clearly struggling.  Thus, she begins a study of sorts of childrearing in France versus America.  Through conversations with other French Moms, personal observations and some research, Druckerman forms a general framework for parenting 'French-style.'

This book has created a lot of waves - some good, some bad - the latter, perhaps, because Druckerman tends to be a little more critical of American-style parenting.  While there were a few times that I earmarked pages, I didn't find the content that groundbreaking probably because I spent a couple of years surrounded by French parents and had seen many of her observations first hand.  But, sociologically, I did find the book quite fascinating.  While others may take offence of it's criticisms, I think it's a good read for those who are enjoy taking a step back and looking at other cultures and if anything, it highlights that we can all learn a little from each other.

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
One sees a side of Paris we don't often hear about in The Painted Girls.  It's 1878, the van Goethem sisters have lost their father and their mother has taken to absinthe.  They're growing up in horrible conditions and money is desperately needed.  The two younger sisters audition and enrol in the Paris Opéra hoping the meagre salary will be enough and that they'll move up the ranks in the famous ballet. The oldest sister, Antoinette, falls in love with a boy who essentially sends her life into a tailspin and puts tremendous stress on her relationship with her sister.  Marie, the middle sister, begins to make her way in the ballet and with that, draws the eyes of Monsieur Degas, a painter who makes her his muse but all may not be as it seems.

I enjoyed this different, dark look at the Belle Époque.  The writing was quite good and the story captivating.  There were moments where the plot began to drag and certainly moments where I wanted to reach into the pages and give the girls a good shake.  It was, however, a bit depressing so if you're looking for something light, this probably isn't it.

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
San Francisco in 1876, a heat wave and a small pox epidemic, a new friendship and a murder mystery make up the plot of this novel.  We see a seedy side of SF as we follow main character Blanche, a showgirl/prostitute who finds her life turned upside down when she befriends Jenny.

As a huge fan of Room, I was eager to pick up Donoghue's next novel but to be honest, I'm not entirely sure what my verdict is on Frog Music.  I wasn't fully drawn into the story yet I didn't dislike it either.  As I neared the end, I was happy to be finishing but was surprised to learn that the novel was actually based off true events.  Perhaps heavy on the 'fiction' in 'historical fiction,' the research that went behind the writing of this novel is admirable.

Currently Reading…
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
After all of the more serious (read: dark) novels, I was in need of something a little lighter and I'd seen this book recommended regularly as a great, easy read.  I'm a third of the way through and quite enjoying it.  Bernadette's snark and sarcasm is quite entertaining and her rant she penned to a former colleague about her home city, Seattle is hilarious.  I'll probably finish this one fairly quickly - especially if my insomnia/jet lag keeps up.
Update: Finished last night. I liked the first half better than the last but it was still a fun, easy read.  I'm going to stick with the lighter side of things and am starting The Rosie Project this afternoon.

What are you reading?  Any good summer reads to pass along?

You can check out other editions of Recent Reads here.

This & That

Sunday 6 July 2014

I am back in Stavanger after nearly 3 weeks in Canada.  The trip was nice and relaxed with only a few side trips.  My time was filled mostly with visiting, HGTV and baby shopping.  It seems like the longer I've been gone from Canada, the less stressed I feel about trips home.  I'm no longer stretching myself and my time so thin and it's much more enjoyable even if that means not seeing as many people as I'd like.

While I was in Canada, we officially passed the two year mark since we left Gabon for Norway.  This thought baffles me.  The idea that we've been in Norway now longer than we were in Gabon seems completely unreal.  After 2 years in Port Gentil, we were both itching to leave yet neither of us are feeling particularly anxious to move on from Stavanger.  Clearly, our second expatriation was an easier transition.  Funnily, sometimes we reminisce about our past, more adventurous life and feel a little nostalgic for the exotic.  As great as our time in Norway has been, I can see us pushing for something different when the time comes to move.

On that note - yes, we're still in Stavanger and while I don't really want to jinx anything, we're feeling pretty confident about being here for the next little while.  Of course, that can change and it often feels like when we're comfortable, someone decides to throw a wrench in our plans but particularly with the impending birth of our first child, we're laying low and would prefer to stay put.  One major life change is enough at this point.

On the pregnancy front, I'm still feeling pretty good.  We've really grown a lot over the past few weeks and I'm now noticing a bit of a struggle when putting on socks and shoes.  I've been feeling movements for quite some time but they're certainly more noticeable these days.  He is very active in utero, particularly when I'm eating or trying to go to sleep.  Joe felt him move for the first time a couple of weeks before I left for Canada and it's even quite easy to see him moving around on the outside too which is just so bizarre.

I returned to Norway with a large duffel bag full of baby gear and while I was gone, Joe purchased a crib.  We have picked out our stroller and car seat but we aren't rushing into purchasing just yet in hopes that we'll see some sales come up over the next month.  While home, I also stocked up on maternity clothing which is surprisingly hard to find in Norway.  I am feeling so much more comfortable now in clothes that fit properly.  

Our summer travel schedule is practically non-existent right now.  This week we surrender our residence cards as we renew them which pretty much keeps us grounded until our new ones arrive.  I'm hoping to plan a last minute excursion to the Hardanger Fjord in the coming weeks when the weather looks nice and things are slower for Joe at work.  Joe might escape to Berlin for a weekend on his own in August to visit a friend and if I'm lucky, we might squeeze in one more international trip before I hit the no-fly zone but time is running out.  Summer is so short in Norway so I'm happy to stick around and enjoy it while it's here.

That's about it on this end  - what is new with you?  Any exciting summer plans?

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